Suffrage in the District
The Washington Post, January 24, 1880
We cannot understand how any man who believes in the fundamental principles of republican government can seriously contend for the continued denial of suffrage to the inhabitants of the District of Columbia.
If it be true that governments derive their just power only from the consent of the governed, what justice is there in ruling this great community– a population equal to that of the State of Nevada– by a system that does not ask consent, and which assumes the right to defy the wishes of the people?
If our fathers of the Revolution were justified in protesting, rebelling, and fighting against taxation without representation, if they were not criminals, rather than heroes, for going to war on such a question, if their memories should be revered and their example held up as worthy of imitation by their descendants, how can taxes be gathered, year after year, from the property-holders of this District, who have no more votes than the negro babies Central Africa, no representation than the mummies in the Smithsonian institution?
We can conceive of no circumstances under which a Democratic Congress can deny the right of suffrage and local self-government to a peaceful, law-abiding community without direct violation of the very essence of the Democratic creed. While it is true that the Constitution devolves on Congress the duty of providing a government for this District, while it is true that the people have no recourse but to accept such provision as Congress makes, it will not be contended by any sane man that Congress has a right to violate the spirit of the Constitution and set up the most detested features of despotic systems of government in the Capital of this Republic.
Here, if anywhere on the continent, we ought to be able to present to all the world a fair illustration of the practicability and advantages of Republican institutions. But we can’t do this in cities that are denied the ballot. And when we say that this great and intelligent community is incapable of self-government and not fit to be trusted with the ballot, we present a strong condemnation of the basis of our whole system; we direct encouragement to the opponents of free institutions.
It is said that suffrage has been abused here. Granted. There isn’t a doubt that it was shamefully abused. There is no question that great wrongs were perpetrated and that numerous evils prevailed under the system that was abolished in 1874. But where is the city, where is the State, in which suffrage has not been abused? Where is the community in which righteousness has always been voted up and iniquity always voted down? Where are the people who have made no mistakes in the selection of officers? Where, on this continent, shall we look for a town, city, county or State in which the ballot has always worked for the greatest good of the greatest number? If suffrage is to be denied to all who fail to use it always with wisdom and justice, let us call in a king and down with the ballot-box.
There is reason to believe that many of the evils of the past will not be repeated here when self-government is re-established. When corruption had its carnival here it was having an equally jolly time in many other places. That era is past. All over the country there has been great improvement in municipal management. Public plunderers have been brought to grief and better men have been put in authority. With the experience of the past as a warning and guide, the people of this District would avoid the reproaches and scandals which caused the last radical change in their government.
But because it is a right; because it is a republican, because it is democratic, because it is in accordance with the great principles on which this Republic stands because no Democrat can consistently deny it, we are compelled to favor the demand that the ballot be restored to this community.
This newspaper article was transcribed from a scan of the original newspaper article. The document was obtained from the Washington Post archives and is in the public domain. It is being republished here in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.